Vanderbilt student team is selected as finalist in MTV-U GE Ecomagination Challenge

Leftover vegetable oil from Vanderbilt Dining Services will be turned into biodiesel fuel, if a student team wins a national competition for a $25,000 grant to fund campus-based environmental projects.

The Vanderbilt student team is one of ten finalists in the national MTV-U GE Ecomagination Challenge, rising to the top from among more than 100 applicants.

The Vanderbilt team’s plan is to collect used vegetable oil from campus kitchens, filter it, and combine it with lye and methanol to produce biodiesel fuel. According to student spokesman Derek Riley, the fuel not only can be substituted for diesel fuel, but actually is superior in that it burns cleanly, cleans the fuel system, and smells clean.

Energy to power the biodiesel fuel production will be obtained from solar panels, backed by a small biodiesel fuel generator when it’s too cloudy. Rainwater will be collected in a large cistern, for use in the fuel production. Methanol left over from chemistry experiments will be collected from campus laboratories.

The team, advised by engineering professor James H. Clarke, includes students from the Wilderness Skills student group and the student environmental group, Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Recycling.

The grant will pay for the necessary equipment to get the project started, Riley said. He said that the team hopes to eventually produce 1,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel per month, potentially eliminating 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions every month.